Thoughts after finishing Kafka’s “The Trial”
The first Kafka book I read was ‘ The Metamorphosis.’ Though I was impressed by the unique characters and the theme of alienation that he explored in the novel, I was not mind blown. I was not drained out after finishing the book even though I had continuously felt alienated from my classmates and relatives.
I admired Kafka for his grit as a writer and his metaphors. The preface of the book had excerpts from his diary and his letters. They were impressive. This inspired me to buy a collection of his popular works. Unfortunately, I never found the time to read it. The forgotten zeal to read Kafka was revived during a book club meet organised by BYOB. In fact , I borrowed the book since a thinner copy seemed to be conquerable when compared to the thick collection I owned.
I took almost two months to finish a two hundred page novel. This slow pace can be attributed to two reasons I guess. First, Kafka’s enormous ability to suck all happiness from the soul (in a matter of ten pages) demands long breaks . And second, his great ability to building extraordinary scenes and metaphors that astonish you. The literary depth of his writing brings you back to the book no matter how depressing his writing is.
The summary of the story in one paragraph could be something like this:
A bank official named Josef K is arrested by a bunch of officials of an unknown court for no reason at all. He is tried an established unknown to the mainstream. He makes several attempts for a fair trial and acquittal. However, the law and the system seem impenetrable. Eventually Josef K faces the consequences of the alleged ‘crime’ committed by him.
Any other summary of the book would just be a variation of the same with more details ( which must be left to the curiosity of a potential reader) . However, the penultimate chapter is the best part of his book. This is the part that wow-ed me. In it , a cathedral priest (who is also part of the court) narrates a story or a myth about the hideous and unknown legal system to Josef K.
“Outside the Law there stands a doorkeeper. A man from the country comes to this doorkeeper and asks to be allowed into the law, but the doorkeeper says that he cannot let the man into the law just now. The man thinks this over and then asks whether that means he might be allowed to enter the Law later. “That’s possible”, the doorkeeper says, “but not now.” […..]
The door keeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at the side of the door. There he sits waiting for years and years. He makes many attempts to be allowed in and wearies the door keeper with his importunity. The door-keeper often engages him in brief conversation , asking him about his home and about other matters, but the questions are put quite impersonally, as great men put questions, and always conclude with the statement that the man cannot be allowed to enter yet. […..]
[after a long description of a hopeless wait]
The door keeper perceives that the man is at the end of his strength and his hearing is railing , so he bellows in his ear: “ No one but you could gain admittance through this door , since this door was intended only for you. I am now going to shut it”
Following the narration , the Josef K and the priest discuss the possible interpretations of the myth. Eventually, the lamp in the priest’s hand dies out and Josef K is left in darkness. He begs the priest for guidance but in vain. The final metaphor in the chapter captured the situation of the accused superbly. After this , the story swiftly moves to the end ( which I refuse to reveal completely) .
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Some also claim that the story is unfinished (and rightly so). But the story seems to reach a satisfactory conclusion. Kafka apparently requested his friend Max Brod to burn his unfinished/ unpublished works. ‘The Trial’ one was among those works. Sometimes, disobedience can be a good thing.
Though it is said that Kafka was describing the bureaucratic system of his time, I wonder if he was speaking about religion or life itself. One might think of the original sin or karma . In the Hindu mythology one is condemned to rebirth and the vagaries of life until the supreme lord decides to ‘liberate’ you from all the pain. Though one might claim innocence before fate or the lord, one is meted out with all sorts of pain and punishment. This might be sound like an exaggeration, but I feel that it could be a possible interpretation.